Mind your lan­guage

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko on Sept. 25 signed a new law on ed­u­ca­tion. The leg­is­la­tion, many months in the mak­ing, is sup­posed to bring the na­tion’s schools and col­leges into line with mod­ern prac­tices. The sign­ing of the law would have gone barely no­ticed had not two of Ukraine’s neigh­bors, Hun­gary and Ro­ma­nia, cre­ated an out­cry. Both coun­tries claim the new law re­stricts the teach­ing of their na­tional lan­guages in Ukraine.

Ukraine pre­vi­ously had a very tol­er­ant pol­icy re­gard­ing the lan­guage of school ed­u­ca­tion. Pub­lic schools in areas densely pop­u­lated with mi­nori­ties of­fered free ed­u­ca­tion in the mi­nor­ity’s lan­guage.

But this could not con­tinue. We have seen what can hap­pen when lin­guis­tic and eth­nic en­claves are cre­ated within Ukraine — in the Don­bas and in Crimea.

The new ed­u­ca­tion law makes some wise changes: it al­lows teach­ing in mi­nor­ity lan­guages in junior school, or for the first three years, but there­after ed­u­ca­tion must be con­ducted in Ukrainian, while mi­nor­ity lan­guages can still be taught in in­di­vid­ual classes. More­over, this con­cerns only pub­lic schools. So the com­plaints of Hun­gary and Ro­ma­nia are com­pletely ground­less. In fact, Ukraine end­ing state fund­ing for the ed­u­ca­tion of peo­ple who refuse to learn the coun­try’s of­fi­cial lan­guage — and there­fore likely don’t see their fu­ture in Ukraine — is log­i­cal and long over­due.

One would ex­pect Ukraine’s neigh­bors and part­ners to un­der­stand how im­por­tant lan­guage pol­icy is for Ukraine today.

In Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine, the lan­guage is­sue has been a weapon more pow­er­ful than a Buk mis­sile or salvo of Grad rock­ets. It was the lan­guage is­sue that was the pre­text for the be­gin­ning of the Rus­sian­in­sti­gated protests in Ukraine’s east in early 2014.

Poor lan­guage pol­icy and weak na­tional iden­tity helped fuel the protests. And the war Ukraine has today has taken more than 10,000 lives since 2014. Should Ukraine risk los­ing more lives and land by sup­port­ing lan­guage en­claves?

We say: no.

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